CHICAGO – They don’t call Jonathan Toews ‘Captain Serious’ for nothing. Apparently there’s this goofy side the public never sees, but for the most part, Toews is extremely diligent and concerned about all things Blackhawk.
So he knew what everyone was thinking. He knew himself that he wasn’t doing enough to help his team. It’s all well and good that he was working his tail off, playing well defensively and taking on linemates that couldn’t help him score without complaint.
But there comes a time when a guy has to produce or he’s not doing his job, particularly when that job pays him $6.3 million a year. Players don’t actually get paid during the playoffs, but it’s the time of year when they most earn their money. And by not contributing offensively to a team that desperately needed it, Toews was doing only half of his job.
And going into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, he knew it.
“You know, you play hard, you try and do the little things right, but at a certain point it’s not enough,” Toews said. “You’re considered an offensive player, key player on your team, you’ve got to find a way to do something.”
Blackhawks teammate Brent Seabrook, who roomed with Toews when Toews was a rookie in Chicago, has a unique relationship with the captain. He’s one of the people who can tell Toews things without worrying about hurting his feelings and he made it clear to the captain in no uncertain terms that it was time to show a little more Rocket Richard to go along with the Selke.
“To be completely honest, I was sick and tired of hearing everybody talk about everything that Johnny is doing right,” Seabrook said.
The message to Toews was clear – that he needed to do a lot more than do everything right. He needed to score. And that’s exactly what Toews did. But more importantly, he was a huge part of the Game 4 where the Zdeno Chara mystique may have taken a hit. Not only did Toews – reunited with Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell – finally get on the scoresheet, he led the attack in going right at Chara and breaking him down. They dumped the puck in Chara’s corner, continually poked the tiger and were largely responsible for making Chara look very fallible for the first time in a long while.
We probably shouldn’t expect anymore 6-5 overtime games – although that would be nice – but it’s clearly a strategy the Blackhawks are going to have to employ through the rest of the series. Until Game 4, it had been a Stanley Cup final dominated by Chara and to say he was in the heads of the Blackhawks would be a huge understatement. That should no longer be the case.
If the Blackhawks are going to win this series, it will be with their speed and skill. The Bruins, meanwhile, are going to have to ramp up their physical play, but also use the creative assets they have to make plays when those physical battles result in puck possession. That means taking the neutral zone away from the Blackhawks and being far more effective on the counterattack than they were in Game 4.
“When we talk about neutral zone, we’re not talking about closing a game up and seeing a boring game,” Julien said. “We’re talking about doing something so that we can regain possession of the puck. And when we regain possession of the puck, we want to get that puck moving in the right direction so we can get a good pace to our game. Sometimes it’s misconstrued, I guess, that the neutral zone is about slowing everything down. It’s about taking options away.”
LOVE THAT GLOVE
Even Chicago goalie Corey Crawford admitted after Game 4 that the Boston Bruins have been targeting his glove side for shots. All five goals scored on Crawford in Game 5 were on the glove side.
Despite the shaky goaltending and the fact that backup Ray Emery is an experienced and capable veteran who has played in a Stanley Cup final before, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he has no intention of taking Crawford out of the net.
“No, not at all,” Quenneville said. “No, we’re very comfortable with Corey. Corey has been rock-solid all year for us and when he’s got the ball he’s been outstanding. He’s the biggest reason why we’re here today.”
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.